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            The basic functions of Literature in any Society include education, entertainment, group control or moralization, maintaining group solidarity and social cohesion. Unfortunately, not much attention is paid to the functional value of literature by teachers who prepare candidates for official examinations such as the G.C.E. Focus is often on literary elements as plot, themes, characters, style and setting. This workshop is an attempt to make a general review of G.C.E ‘O’ Level Literature texts with focus on their didactic function or better still, the moral lessons to be learnt from the texts.



            Good Literature, be it fiction or factual is supposed to serve some basic functional values: amuse or entertain, teach or educate, moralize or edify, maintain group solidarity and social cohesion. For these functions to be attained, literature has to be effective. Literature can be said to be effective if it produces the results it was intended to, just like an effective drug would treat the illness it was prescribed to treat. It should therefore puncture certain habits in the society as desired by the writer.



            Literature is affective when it has an influence on the reader, causing some kind of strong feeling in him/her. This feeling or reaction can be positive or negative but it is generally tense and emotional. This is true of all literary genres, so that when the literature text fails to move its reader, when the reader is left indifferent at the end, then it is not affective and the writer has failed to attain the basic functions of literature.



We have already seen that literature has many functions: education, entertainment, edification, moralization etc. Now, let’s try to look at the didactic function of the texts at G.C.E ‘O’ Level Literature. Didactic Literature is one that is intended to teach people a moral. What moral can we learn from the four texts? Literature is an instrument of social control, so we learn to emulate the good examples of some outstanding characters just as we shun the negative attributes of anti-heroes. From Ambanasom’s Son of the Native Soil, Orwell’s Animal Farm, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Smith & Wilkins the Sheldon Book of Verse Book 3, moral lessons abound.


            In Son of the Native Soil, there are certainly moral lessons to be learnt from Achamba who pays the ultimate prize for the love of his native land. He is courageous, but not full hardy; loving but not exploitative, handsome but not proud; outspoken yet full of discretion; inquisitive yet tactful, generous yet caring and responsible, objective and never biased, committed and dutiful. He is a perfect example for us, teachers of English and Literature that we are.


            Who amongst us wouldn’t want a daughter or a wife like Echunjei? Shy but not naïve, obedient but unrelenting, bold and constant in love. There are important morals to be learnt from the character of these two and why not chief Akaya? They all work for peace and reconciliation; virtues that cannot be approved of only by an insane society; by capricious men, the likes of Abaago and Chief Umeitoh. These are antiheros who serve as bad examples in the society. They are greedy and selfish; quarrelsome and aggressive, full hardy and rash. No society or people admire such characters. If Literature enables us to inculcate social etiquettes or decorum, it must be by the good example of characters like Achamba. Achamba’s character teaches us that as teachers, we are supposed to be the torch-bearers of our communities.


            No reader would remain indifferent to the 30 year-old teacher’s moral and physical portrait. His efforts to reconcile the factions in his Dudum clan earn him both admiration and hatred; a devoted teacher who wins general admiration and even gains favours from his principal; modest and simple in taste especially his dressing; morally perfect in the love relation with Echunjei from courtship to marriage, showing much concern for the welfare of his people and ever ready to play the trouble-shooter. His people quickly realize the qualities of this dynamic son of the soil and make him pioneer president of DCDA. No doubt then, that he is given a heroic burial; after all, “he was in every inch a Dudum Son”. Evil men in society detaste such characters and often try to give a dog a bad name and hang him. That is what Abaago tries to do but fails and in the end uses malicious tugs to murder Achamba.


            From Akaya, the paramount chief of Dudum, good lessons can be learnt: he is dynamic and diplomatic in public affairs, a lover of peace who handles the conflict with Akan very tactfully, avoiding war. He is honest and plain in his political leaning, once he embraces the KPP be refuses to join CUP. When the marriage between Echunjei and Eziaga fails, he does his best to satisfy father and son by paying back everything he had taken. How many old men in the village can behave this way? He is certainly a model for traditional leaders. Today the society is full of political prostitutes who move from one political party to the other; and some parents ‘sell’ their daughters to many suitors!


            George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a satire on the collapse of the ideal state in Stalinist Russia. Satire does not only condemn, but condemns in order to reform. Therefore Orwell teaches moral lessons by condemning societal follies such as greed, demagogy, power-mongering and a host of others. This animal fiction is a fable. A fable is a simple story in which animals act like men. In a broader sense, it is a short story, a general truth by which people are expected to learn a moral. Animal farm satirises totalitarian regimes by making animals to act out the behaviour of men in such a system. This type of literature is intended to moralize and thus lead to a change.


            The book is also an Allegory, that is, a story with an underlying meaning. The characters and events in the book represent particular ideas or events and may be related to some moral, religious or political meaning. In the case of Animal Farm, we have already stated that it represents communist Russia under Stalin. Usually, in an allegory, the essential meaning also called ‘tenor’ is found outside of the literary work. The animals in the farm represent peasant workers; Moses embodies the Russian Orthodox Church, the animals’ rebellion represents the Russian Revolution, the song ‘Beasts of England’ represents the communist anthem.


            Allegories use characters, setting and images to suggest meaning beyond themselves. Allegorical characters generally represent abstract qualities e.g. Napoleon is an embodiment of tyranny; Minimus, praise singer; Squealer, the devil’s spokesman.


            We learn a good lesson on totalitarianism, a political system whereby those in power have complete control over their subordinates and do not give room for any opposition. In such a regime, everyone tends to suspect everyone else, even members of their own family circle and friends.


            This accounts for the numerous massacres in Animal Farm since all power is in the hands of Napoleon and Squealer. The failure of the animals to create an ideal republic, a utopia state as foreseen by Old Major, shows how man is selfish, greedy, power hungry and corrupt. We learn that in political systems as this, power continuously changes hands through force and complicity. There is no freedom of expression or association. Napoleon abolishes Sunday meetings, institutes dictatorship and rules by decrees. The farm becomes the property of a few pigs and a strong army of well trained dogs is there to protect Napoleon and the regime.


            The lower animals become slaves while the pigs are masters, exploiting Boxer, Clover and the other animals. Snowball is seen as a threat to his position because he is more intelligent and inventive. Consequently, he is chased out of the farm and blackmailed.


            While we pity Boxer, Snowball and other less influential animals, we hate Napoleon’s cruel, deceitful and treacherous nature. Hence, he is a bad example in the society.


            Through Napoleon’s caprices, the ideal state is broken down when he gains upper hand on the others; Snowball is expelled, rule N° 7 is changed to “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”. The rulers do not want to be treated as ordinary animals; suddenly one of the pigs is noticed walking on two legs. We are left to suppose that everything will soon be just as it was before: the animals have merely exchanged one kind of tyranny for another. Is mankind different from these animals? Power is sweet, that we know, and that is why men in power want absolute power. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely! Isn’t this a moral lesson?


            If we take a look at Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, we see how Rome is rocked by tumultuous civil conflicts as strong men rise and fall one after the other. Rome had been a kingdom under king Tarkuin but he ruled like a tyrant; Romans fought and defeated him and made Rome a republic governed by an elected body. We have the Senate and then the Tribunes who had to keep watch over the Senate so as to protect the rights of the Commoner’s called plebeians. This structure was soon dominated by three men: Pompey, Crassus and Julius Caesar known as the first Triumvirate. Crassus was killed in a battle and Pompey and Caesar could not agree to share power. This led to a civil war. In 48BC, Pompey was defeated at pharsalia and later his two sons were defeated. Caesar has just returned from that victory but there is fear that he wants to make himself king and rule like Tarkuin. While the Tribunes do not want any celebration of Caesar’s victory because he will “soar above the view of men/and keep us all in servile fearfulness” (Flavius, Act one sc.1).


            Cassius tells Brutus, “he doth bestride the narrow world/like a colossus, and we petty men/walk under his huge legs to find ourselves dishonourable graves” (Act 1, sc2).


            After the death of Caesar, we have the second triumvirate (Anthony, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus) who share power but soon plunge into civil wars for supremacy as we find in Anthony and Cleopatra.


            Roman citizens are influenced by emotions rather than reason, and their affections are not to be trusted. In the past they cheered for Pompey; now they welcome Caesar, but just after his murder we hear them say “live, Brutus, live, live”! And they want to bring him with triumph home unto his house. Yet as soon as Antony talks to them and reads Caesar’s will, they declare “we’ll burn the house of Brutus to revenge the death of the ‘most noble Caesar’”.


            Many lessons can be learnt from the play:

            First, like in Animal Farm; power is sweet, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.


            Second, never trust the masses or mob action; they act out of their emotions rather than reason.


            A great deal is to be learnt on appearance and reality. Caesar is shocked to see Brutus draw his dagger against him and dies with “ Et tu brute? Then fall Caesar” (Act 3, sc.1). Later Antony reports that “Brutus as you know; was Caesar’s angel/… this was the most unkindest cut of all”.


            Thirdly, we learn that pride comes before the fall. Caesar, “the fore most man of all this world” seeks absolute power, ambition which leads to pride and being proud he is blind to certain realities. When Calpurnia warns him, he says “Cowards die many times before their deaths”; he also says the soothsayer is but a dreamer and later declares to Cassius “I am constant as the northern star”, all these without foreseeing trouble.


            Brutus, on the other hand, “the noblest Roman of them all” is a poor judge of character; too simple minded and unrealistic. He fails to listen to Cassius’ advice and blunders seriously by giving Antony the opportunity to address the plebeians.


            Cassius is the smart wit who conspires against Caesar and quickly induces Brutus into accepting his opinion. He is intelligent and dangerous because he is capable of changing at any moment. He does not see what is in the name Caesar that has made this man a demi-god. Jealous, he is, and believes that Caesar does not deserve that grandeur. This l’homme fatal is like Lady Macbeth, the femme fatale in Macbeth and Iago, the witty devil in Othello. But what lesson do we learn from the conspiracy?


            Brutus is pursued by Caesar’s ghost and given an appointment at Philippi. At the battle field, misinformation sets in and brings the conspirators into committing suicide. When Brutus runs on his own sword, held by Strato, he says “Caesar, now be still! / I killed not thee with half so good a will” (Act 5,sc. V). Cassius on his part dies with these words: “Caesar, thou art revenged/even with the sword that killed thee!”


            So all in all, we learn that he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword or better still as Antony puts it, “the evil that men do lives after them”.


            The didactic function of Literature is very evident in many of the poems selected for G.C.E. ‘O’ Level Literature in English. Some of the moral lessons are inspired by the Holy Scriptures.


            In “St. Martin and the Beggar”, Thom Gunn teaches us to respect Christian principles and doctrines for our faith to grow. We should have pity for the poor and needy and share with them. In very severe winter weather, Martin cut his cloak into two and gave one half to a naked beggar. It was all he had and he exercised true charity with no strings attached to it. It was his widow’s might, given in good faith. Isn’t it a moral lesson to us?


            In “The Creditor”, Louis Mac Neice sees us all as debtors to God for his infinite generosity. Do we acknowledge his unlimited generosity to man? We should learn to be grateful. In “I Vow to thee my Country”, we learn that by being patriotic; by suffering and sacrificing even one’s life for one’s fatherland tantamount to a big reward in heaven where peace reigns with no suffering.


            Elsewhere, D.H Lawrence teaches us in the poem ”Work” to make fun of the work we do and enjoy it like a game. If we really enjoy our work, then we will not need machines to work for us. Consequently we will smash those machines that make us lazy.


            We should work devoutedly and waste no time in idleness as Robert Frost writes in “Mowing”. Nevertheless, because of our zeal to work, we destroy the environment; we need not destroy the environment. This is because man’s love for work has left him unconscious of the damage done to the natural, beautiful environment which is the habitat of some natural elements. Our destruction of the natural vegetation is senseless and meaningless.


            In “Crossing the Bar”, Tennyson teaches us to accept death as inevitable. Instead of mourning, let us rejoice in death; let no one bid him farewell in sorrow because he hopes to meet his ‘pilot face to face’ when he has ‘crossed the bar’. Robert Herrick in “To Daffodils” echoes a similar message. Life is ephemeral and no sooner are we born than “we grow to meet decay” like flowers that blossom for a very short time.


            But do we have a choice? Therefore let us learn to accept death as inevitable.


            Other lessons can be learnt on love, war, etc. but like Thomas Hardy in “Afterwards”, we should ask ourselves what people will say about us when the final bell tolls. Shall they make good impression of our life? H.W. Longfellow prescribes in his poem “A Psalm of life” that:


Lives of great men all remind us,

We may make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Foot prints on the sands of time.


            In conclusion, I would say let us, literature teachers make use of the functional values of literature not only in the classroom as we teach, but also in our society as we live.




  • Ambanasom, A. Shadrack. Son of the Native soil. Bamenda: Unique Printers (Revised edition), 2006.
  • Orwell, George. Animal Farm. Heinemann Education Publishers, 1994.
  • Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. (New Swan Shakespeare) Ed. H.M. Hulme. London: Longman.
  • Smith, a Wilkins. The Sheldon Book of Verse BK 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Tala, I. Kashim. The Oral Tale in Africa. Yaoundé: BET& Co. Ltd., 1989.
  • Woolger, & Ogungbesan. Images and Impressions: An Oxford Senior Poetry Course. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.
  • Mbuy, H. Tatah. “The Moral Responsibility of the writer in a Pluralist Society”. Anglophone Cameroon Writing. Eds. Lyonga et al. Bayreuth: Bayreuth University, 1993: 84-88.
  • Harriet, Ndikum. “The image of a Teacher in Relation to Son of the Native Soil: A Didactric Approach”. L.T.S Journal, Ed. Felix C. Tumaju. Bamenda: Quality Printers, March 2010: HH-45.




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